Australian Government review of vehicle emissions has a now familiar aroma of disappointment

According to a Press Release from Federal Member for Bradfield and Minister for Territories, Local Government and Major Projects Paul Fletcher, a “whole of Government” approach will be used to address vehicle emissions with the establishment of a Ministerial Forum which will be supported by a working group.

The working group will be examine the implementation of Euro 6 (a Regulation that reduces the emissions from light duty vehicles-cars and vans), fuel quality standards, fuel efficiency measures (CO2) for light vehicles and vehicle emissions testing.

In addition to the future implementation of Euro 6, fuel efficiency measures for light vehicles, fuel quality standards and vehicle emission testing standards in line with those implemented by international Regulators, the terms of reference for the working group include consulting with Industry stakeholders and coordinating work that is already underway regarding Government measures under the National Clean Air Agreement, the Emissions Reduction Fund and Safeguard mechanisms relating to transport initiatives and future infrastructure to support new vehicles.

The working group will report to the Ministerial Forum by the end of this Financial Year on options for managing fuel quality standards and measurement reporting standards for air pollutants under the National Clean Air Agreement. By 31 March 2017 the working group will report to the Forum on a draft implementation plan for new measures. Given that the current Government has committed to announcing measures to meet Australia’s 2030 climate change targets in 2017, it is shaping as a very busy year indeed with respect to Climate related matters.

The Ministerial Forum will facilitate consultation between Environment Minister Greg Hunt, Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia Josh Frydenberg, Major Projects Minister Paul Fletcher (Forum Chair) and Industry to reduce motor vehicle emissions on Australian roads. Minister Fletcher stated that Australia already has tough emissions standards which ensures that air quality is good by international standards and the Government is taking Direct Action on climate change through a number of initiatives.

Australian Government policy is to bring vehicle emissions standards with those developed by the United Nations.

Australian Government policy is to bring vehicle emissions standards with those developed by the United Nations. The recent adoption of Euro 5 vehicle emissions standards for light and heavy vehicles in Australia and consideration of Euro 6 was evidence of this according to Minister Fletcher.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt reiterated that while a number of programs were already in place which target vehicle emissions, the Government would continue working to reduce them further, including an Independent Review of the Fuel Quality Standards which will report before the end of this Financial Year.

See the Press Release regarding the Turnbull Government’s new approach to vehicle emissions here

I find it “interesting” (heavy sarcasm noted) that successive Federal Governments of both persuasions in Australia continue to promote bringing the population on a journey focusing on reducing vehicle emissions using initiatives including the Green Vehicle Guide and mandatory fuel efficiency labelling and at the same time seemingly ignore the personal exposure of drivers who refuel their vehicles at petrol stations. Fuel quality and vehicle engine efficiency are valid and important aspects, however surely the point of sale (e.g. petrol bowser) for that fuel should also receive some attention?

I wrote my PhD on personal exposure to benzene (an aromatic compound that is added to petrol to replace lead) with a focus on the lifetime excess leukemia risk of refuelling a vehicle once a week over a 70 year average lifetime. Therefore I happen to know something about the significant excess risk that this one activity poses in comparison to others that individuals would probably do on a weekly basis without thinking too much about either the activity itself or what they are being exposed to as a result.

I wrote a blog on that earlier this year if you are interested in finding out more. You don’t have to worry – its not a lesson in chemistry or industrial hygiene however I’m pretty sure you’ll understand why we need to think a little more about some of the activities we do regularly. It may also cause you to ponder why Governments continue to ignore it from both an emissions and personal exposure perspective.

On this basis, I question how successive Governments continue to pick and choose which initiatives they will align with those of international counterparts under the premise of working to minimise what they label “noxious” emissions. In terms of minimising exposures during refuelling, vapour recovery at the petrol bowser has been in place in the US and Europe for decades and therefore Australia clearly has a long way to go. I am also growing tired of hearing that New South Wales is looking into implementing vapour recovery systems at the bowser (called Stage 2)-this statement has been trotted out for years.

I commend New South Wales for their persistence in this matter, however the lack of action from other states or from successive Federal Governments causes me to question their respective level of commitment to “noxious” emissions. If they intend to mention their new approach to vehicle emissions as part of their commitment at the upcoming Paris meeting and someone begins to probe a little deeper, the Australian delegation could well face questions as to why refuelling emissions aren’t part of such a review. Based on what I learnt from my PhD, I would certainly be asking such a question (among many others).

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